`Nightline' taps three to fill Koppel's shoes

Terry Moran, Cynthia McFadden and Martin Bashir to share late-night duties


R.I.P. Nightline?

ABC news announced yesterday that the show's host, Ted Koppel, will be replaced with a team of three co-anchors in an adjusted format.

Starting Nov. 28, the nightly news show will be hosted by three journalists affiliated with ABC: Martin Bashir, Terry Moran and Cynthia McFadden. While Nightline will retain the name that has made it a hallmark for serious, high-minded broadcast journalism, there are indications that the award-winning format is about to change significantly. Koppel retires Nov. 22, after 42 years with the network.

In the announcement, ABC news president David Westin says that Nightline is "expanding its format to multiple news topics each night."

That's a marked departure from the show's almost 26-year history, in which one issue was explored in depth, whether it was the Iran hostage crisis (with which the show began), or the impact of AIDS in America and Africa.

But Richard Wald, former president of NBC from 1979 to 2000, said that it would have been unwise for ABC to simply replicate the existing format and hope for the best.

"Ted Koppel had a program as tailored to him as a made-to-order suit," said Wald, now a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York.

"He's one of the few people who can juggle three guests while juggling with ideas, who can be confrontational and polite at the same time. It's a form of television that he excelled at, and that very few other people can do. You cannot simply replace him. Once you decide that, the question becomes what to do next."

Apparently, "what to do next" will involve celebrities, at least part of the time. While Bashir has covered many serious topics as a journalist, including a series of racially motivated murders in his native Great Britain, he is best-known for his controversial -- and widely watched -- documentary, Living with Michael Jackson which aired Feb. 6 on ABC's 20/20. Bashir also interviewed Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995, before her death in a car crash two years later.

The Jackson documentary raised ethical concerns among some journalists who questioned whether Bashir had misled the pop star into believing that the film would be much softer than it turned out to be.

As Diana Wichtel wrote in The New Zealand Examiner on March 8, 3003: "Most journalists couldn't manage Bashir's lavish levels of sycophancy and insincerity without making themselves physically ill with self-disgust."

Adam Clayton Powell, director of the Integrated Media Systems Center at the University of Southern California, thinks that ABC should tackle the issue directly.

"Given the trouble that CBS just went through with Dan Rather, I would think they would try to bend over backward to give the appearance that they adhere to the highest ethical standards," he said.

"Instead of sitting back and waiting for criticism, they should address it head-on. They should say, `Yes, [Bashir] did this very high-profile and very popular interview, and we stand behind it for these reasons.'"

Of course, Bashir is just one of the three new co-anchors announced yesterday.

He and McFadden will anchor the show from New York, while Moran will anchor it from Washington.

Moran, ABC News' chief White House correspondent, has covered some of the major news stories of the decade, from the 2000 presidential election that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

McFadden formerly worked for Court TV, and her specialty is legal issues. Since joining ABC News in 1994, some of her big stories include a firsthand look at the process leading up to a man's execution in Louisiana, and an exclusive interview with Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.

Besides co-anchor duties, she will continue to anchor and report for ABC News' Primetime.

Bashir, who joined ABC in 2004, will continue to report for the news magazine 20/20.

Wald, for one, thinks the combination of three anchors in two locations might work. "They're an interesting group," he said.

"Bashir, who is British, looks at American society with an outsider's eye. Terry Moran has been dealing with major Washington stories for years now, and knows all the issues and all the players. McFadden is very, very smart about cops and investigations and the law.

"If your intention is to make a program that covers a very wide swath of American social and political life, they will make a terrific combination.

"But will they make a terrific show out of that terrific combination? You just never know."



Job: White House correspondent

Highlights: Coverage of the 1996 trial of Erik and Lyle Menendez in Los Angeles for Court TV; reports on the U.S.-led occupation in Baghdad and the insurgency against it.


Job: Legal correspondent; reporter/anchor, Primetime

Highlights: Report on attempts to secure loose nuclear materials and weapons; Primetime report on grandmothers raising their grandchildren.


Job: Correspondent for 20/20

Highlights: The 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson and a 1995 BBC interview with Princess Diana about her failed marriage to Prince Charles.

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